The Kiplings and India: A Collection of Writings from British India, 1870-1900

Her Brother's Keeper (Alice MacDonald Fleming, 1897)

[Published in Longman's Magazine, May 1902. Accessed via Google Books. Signed as "Alice Fleming"]

Her Brother's Keeper.
He could not raise his hand to kill,
God sent her hand, to hold it :
He could not work his maddened will,
Because her will controlled it.
She tamed the tiger, charmed the snake,
And soothed the savage human;
Then—cried, as if her heart would break,
A tired little woman.

          A SMALL woman in a badly-cut khaki habit rode slowly along a path which, although it was the main thoroughfare between two fairly large villages, was almost overgrown by tufts of tall jungle-grass. She was no longer young, and the bright colouring of hair and skin that was once hers had been dulled by nearly twenty years spent in India. The pitiless climate—kinder to her, however, than to many Englishwomen—had taken toll of her beauty without wrecking her health; for, though the face under the faded hair was very thin and yellow, the slight figure swaying easily in the saddle was erect and strong. Her Arab chose his own pace and she made no attempt to hasten his slow steps. The dak bungalow where she intended to spend the night was but a mile away, and since her husband had been detained on his inspection tour, no one was waiting for her there.

          A note telling her of the unexpected delay had reached her that morning, advising her to postpone her jungle trip until the following day; but Mrs. Addison had made her arrangements for departure, and a great weariness of her own whitewashed house had seized her. Her home letters had been disquieting lately: the boy at Woolwich had developed an unexpected delicacy of the lungs, and her youngest son, with a boy's indifference to the value of time, was playing at athletics instead of working for Sandhurst. There was nothing in the small dull station, nothing in the monotonous evenings passed so slowly in the dreary precincts of the Amusement Club,' to amuse or distract an anxious mind, and ten days in camp, even with a husband who was habitually overworked and frequently worried, appeared to her as a change that might bring rest and healing.

          A familiar figure, running as swiftly as clumsy shoes would allow, emerged at a turn of the road; Guj Raj Singh, one of Mr. Addison's chaprassies and messengers, whose name being translated meant 'Elephant King Lion.'
          'Stop, mem sahib,' he panted, ' there is a mad sahib in the bungalow who is shooting with a gun, and your honour must wait
till he is caught.'
          'A mad sahib ? Where has he come from? '

          'The bungalow khansamah has no news, Huzoor. The sahib arrived yesterday, very angry, without servants and with but three coolies bringing boxes. They told the khansamah that they had found the sahib in the jungle alone, and he had beaten them with sticks and obliged them to carry his asbab. They saw no tents. Last night the sahib was full of anger for no reason, and to-day he is mad and has a gun.'
          'It must be some poor fellow with sunstroke,' said Mary Addison to herself.
          'He will soon be caught, however,.' said Guj Raj cheerfully, ‘many men from the village are there with heavy sticks. If the honoured one will wait a little '
          'I am going on ; follow me,' said Mrs. Addison.
          Three minutes' quick canter brought her in sight of the bungalow, a one-storeyed building of three rooms, opening upon a narrow verandah. A swelling seething crowd of men armed with metal-bound staves swayed and shifted near, and a little rabble of women and children watched from a safe distance. As she drew rein, a reed blind that hung before the centre door moved slightly, there was a puff of smoke, the sharp ping of a rifle, and a bullet found a harmless billet in a green turban, two inches above the wearer's head.
          'Strike,' yelled the crowd. 'Seize and strike!' and it seemed to the white woman that race hatred mingled with the fear and anger in their voices. No one had dared to approach the man behind the blind as yet; but when they did, the six-foot brassbound latties were terrible weapons, that could deal the death of a dog.
          One of Mrs. Addison's own servants ran to her. 'The sahib is mad,' he shouted; 'go back!'

          ‘Choop,’ she answered, and the emphatic word seemed to enforce the silence it commanded. ‘Send these people away at once. Tell them to go quietly to their houses. The sahib is my brother.’

          She dismounted and walked to the reed blind as resolutely as though no possibility of death in a hideous form lurked behind it. The man was absolutely unknown to her, but the race feeling was strong in her heart. An Englishman in an alien land needed help, and she, as an Englishwoman, must save him from himself if necessary. She noticed how the smell of gunpowder hung in the air.
          The man behind the blind was quite young, and very tall and strongly built; his face was strangely red, almost congested, and his fair hair was very dull and untidy. As she entered he instinctively raised his hand to his bare head as though to take off a hat, and the little gesture relieved her of the worst of her fears.
          'How do you do?' she said pleasantly, and he shifted his rifle to take her proffered hand. 'I'm Mrs. Addison. Perhaps you have met my husband out in the district; he has been prevented from meeting me here, but he will come to-morrow, I hope.'
          'I'll take care of you,' he cried in a peculiarly high hard voice. 'I'll shoot some of those devils outside. You watch.'
          She stepped between him and the door, laughing lightly. 'Oh, you mustn't do that,' she said. 'Why, some of my servants are there, and if you frighten them away we shall get no dinner. May I look at your rifle? It seems a great beauty. I wonder if it is as heavy as my husband's. I can shoot rather well with his.' She took it from his unresisting hand, and stepping outside fired
into the air. 'There, I've missed that crow, and I've hurt my shoulder dreadfully,' she cried laughing, as she leant the empty rifle against the verandah wall with a quick gesture to Guj Raj, and went back into the room. It needed a good deal of courage to go in the second time, though nothing in her manner betrayed the effort.
          'I'm quite tired,' she said, ' and longing for tea, though I haven't had a long ride—only from Pultonpore. When did you come here?'
          He bent over her, after elaborate precautions against being overheard, and whispered, 'I have been in hell for ages and ages. This is hell — didn't you know?'
          She took his hot dirty hand and laid her fingers on the wrist. 'I am afraid you have fever,' she said ; 'sit down here with your back to the light and tell me how you feel—you look as if you had been sleeping badly.'
          His rifle was still leaning against the wall. Why was Guj Raj so slow?
          'I can't remember when I slept last,' he said simply.
          The rifle was gone now and she spoke more cheerfully. 'You must let my husband prescribe for you to-morrow; he is not a doctor, but he is nearly as good as one.'
          'Is he of good family ? I am of very ancient birth and high lineage; we can trace descent in a direct unbroken line from Guy, Earl of Warwick. You have heard, of course, of the Dun Cow, and the Dunmow Flitch?'
          Mrs. Addison assented enthusiastically, and he went on:
          'I could draw you up a genealogical tree in a moment, if I had pen and paper, that would make the whole matter clear to you.'
          'Please do. I shall be deeply interested.'
          The contents of a portmanteau seemed to have been emptied out on the table ; he dug like a terrier among the confusion till he found a writing-case.
          'This will be a truly beautiful family tree,' he said.
          'I am so glad,' said Mrs. Addison, locking his gun-case and pocketing the key. She hummed a waltz tune to cover the sound of her movements as she rummaged for his razors in an open bag.
          There were seven of them in a neat case. What other weapons was he likely to possess, she wondered, glancing at the absorbed figure. There was bound to be a revolver somewhere; she cautiously moved a rug and pillow that were flung slantwise on the bare bedstead, and found what she sought.
          'What are you doing?' he asked suddenly and roughly.
          'Only tidying the room a little,' she answered, tossing an end of the blanket over the revolver. 'You don't like it as untidy as this, I'm sure.'
          'No, I hate it; but these devils are not to come in and pry about, mind that.'
          'Of course they sha'n't. I'll do it myself.'
          'Let me help you,' he said, an instinct of politeness coming pathetically to the surface of his seething mind.
          'Oh, no; you must go on with the tree. I sha'n't understand about your family else.'
          He bent obediently over the table, and hiding the revolver with the razors under the fold of her skirt, she went out quickly to lock up the dangers in her own box. Coming back, she stole away a heavy stick, and now there only remained the large hunting-knife that lay on the table near his hand.
          'How is the tree getting on?' she asked, looking over his shoulder at a piece of paper that displayed pitiful scrawlings in red and blue pencil, like the scribblings of a little child.
          'It won't come right; my head hurts so all over the top.'
          She passed a cool hand over his burning brow and eyes, and at the same moment caught up the hunting-knife and hid it behind her.
          'Yes, your forehead is dreadfully hot. Aren't you thirsty?'
          'No; only in the top of my head.'
          'I'll tell them to get us some tea,' she said.
          This was her excuse for hiding the knife, and when she returned her feeling of relief was so great that she was almost light-hearted. She had learnt from the gun-case that his name was Sydney Warwick, and that he belonged to an English regiment, but the problem of his presence there, and the mystery of his madness, were still unsolved by her. Had the insanity been caused by sun stroke, or excesses, or anxiety, or was it a sheer hereditary curse?
          She had no means of judging.
          After tea he talked a great deal, always in a high hard voice, and it was difficult for her to tell in his fluent rambling sentences where sanity ceased and madness began. He was very boastful and argumentative, and a little disposed to be quarrelsome if she did not instantly agree with his wildest statements. It seemed to her that he talked as a fever patient thinks, with no power to fix the mind upon one subject, and with no possible connection of ideas between the topics. Two or three times he told her stories of the kind that no gentleman should tell to a lady: scum that floated on the whirling torrent of his poor mind, and she, understanding, smiled patiently.
          It was useless to question him. She made one very ordinary inquiry as to his recent movements, and he glared angrily at her, growling, 'I warn you not to go too far!' A moment later he unearthed a packet of letters from the confused mound on the table and insisted that she should read them. Most of them were from his mother—loving letters full of the details of a narrow life in a far-away cathedral city, and telling her little, save that the red-faced wild-looking man with the suffused eyes, who sat rocking his body restlessly to and fro, was a dearly loved and only son, the child of many prayers.
          'Sydney,' said Mrs. Addison quietly, purposely using his Christian name, ' I think your mother would wish you to see a doctor, if she were here.' The restless rocking ceased for a moment, and the fierce red face grew gentler.
          'The poor old mom worries awfully if there's the least thing wrong with me,' he said.
          'I know she does; so for her sake you ought to write to Dr. Bailey—he's the doctor at Pultonpore, only twelve miles from here—and ask him to ride out and see you to-morrow morning. I'm sure he would if you told him that going out in the sun would be too much for you.'
          'Very well; I daresay the mum would like it.' And taking a red pencil, he began his note on a sheet of foolscap.
          'Had I better draw our coat of arms at the top?' he asked.
          'No; I shouldn't wait for that. It's getting late, and we ought to send the letter without delay,' said Mary Addison, who was writing a note to accompany the foolscap sheet.
          'Is this all right ?' he asked presently.
          It was sadly right, in that it faithfully showed the turmoil in his poor brain; and Mrs. Addison knew that the doctor who was to receive it would set all possible difficulties aside to come to his help—his help and hers. Meanwhile she was sure the madman's great need was sleep.
          'I know what will be the best thing for you to do,' she said; 'after dinner let me give you some sulphonal. I often take it, and it will make you sleep well all night.'
          'I'm not going to swallow any of your poison!' he shouted.
          'Sydney, you forget yourself; that is not the way to speak to me.'
          'I didn't mean to,' he stammered; 'but you can see for yourself the danger I am in. I dare not go to sleep; these black brutes will come and kill me if I do.'
          'When did you first begin to think that of them?'
          'I don't know. Of course they are bound to kill me in the end—there are so many of them; but I won't let my life go cheap. Where's my rifle?'
          'I took it away to clean it—you shall have it after dinner, if you like. Please sit down, Sydney; it makes me nervous to see you pacing up and down the room.'

          'I'm a restless sort of chap, I know,' he said meekly; ' the mum is always telling me so.'
          'Try and keep still for ten minutes, then,' said Mrs. Addison, laughing, as she went into the verandah to give orders for the despatch of the note. The servants were busy preparing dinner, and the crowd had dispersed long ago, in a calm belief that the memsahib would prevent the mad sahib from doing any harm.

          Guj Raj shuffled up to her, a light of unwonted intelligence on his honest stupid face, and a piece of rope in his hand.
          ‘Since the sahib has neither guns nor knives now,' he said eagerly, ' four men by entering quickly could tie up his hands and feet without hurt.'
          'Go away, and try not to be a fool,' said Mrs. Addison. 'The sahib will eat dinner with me,' she went on, turning to her table servant, 'and the medicine in this paper, which looks like salt, must be put into the soup that you give to me—to me, you understand. If you forget to do this the sahib will certainly kill me, and then will probably kill some of you; so be careful not to forget. Bring dinner quickly.'
          The table was laid in the third room of the bungalow, and made pretty with roses brought from Mrs. Addison's own garden in Pultonpore—a detail arranged by the khitmatghar as a matter of course.
          'Now remember, Sydney,' said Mrs. Addison, as she led him in, ' you musn't frighten my servants, they are very good men.'
          He looked suspiciously at his soup without tasting it.
          'This isn't the same as yours,' he said.
          'Oh, yes, it is,' said Mary Addison, making sure with the bowl of a spoon that the sulphonal was completely melted; 'but we'll change plates if you like; I do not mind at all.'

          The transfer was made to his evident relief, and he drank the soup. During the whole dinner, the six courses insisted on by the khansamah as essential to the dignity of the ruling race, this exchange of plates was solemnly gone through.
          'The poison they have prepared for me is not likely to injure you,' he said each time, in a kind of pitiful apology.
          After dinner he grew at first noisy and then deeply depressed—the effect of the sulphonal, she supposed, for the dose she had given him had been a strong one.
          'I wish I dared go to sleep,' he said.
          'Why not? I'll watch and see that no one comes near you. I'm a very good nurse, and think nothing of sitting up all night,' she answered, in a very matter of fact voice.
          She persuaded him at last, after much argument, to lie down; and, wrapping herself in a fur cloak, sat near him till his babbling voice ceased and his regular breathing told of sleep. The night was cold, with the coldness of northern Indian winter; but she had been afraid to have a fire lighted, lest the sight of it should suggest to his madness a new and horrible form of destruction.
          A lantern burning in a corner dimly lighted his flushed face, which had a touching air of youth and helplessness. At first he slept uneasily, and she unlaced and took off his heavy boots, and loosened his coat at the throat, with gentle motherly fingers. He looked up, indistinctly murmuring a sentence that ended in a coarse word; but she whispered 'Hush! Sydney, don't talk '; and he nestled down on his pillow like a tired child, saying, ' I'm so sleepy.'
          Mrs. Addison did not care to read, and the young face on the pillow, seeming in that dim light far younger than it really was, carried her thoughts back to the days when her sons had been children within the reach of her love: before the inevitable separation of Indian life had done its cruel work. Her babies — her little boys — were now her big sons, and divided from her by more than mere thousands of miles of land and sea. Her face, her ways, her very love for them had grown unfamiliar to them, and they had received her with more criticism than tenderness when she had last ' gone home.' And yet her heart yearned over all three—Roger, the Woolwich cadet; Ted, at Haileybury; and little Dick, her baby of a few years ago, who now loved his aunt so dearly and cared for his mother so little. Would they ever seem like her own again, or had her love and pain been wasted, thwarted and set at naught by the dividing power of distance and time?
          The sleeping boy—she no longer thought of him as a man—moaned and started, and she smoothed his hair, murmuring, 'Hush, dear; hush. It's all right, I'm here. Go to sleep again,' in a voice that had power to soothe him, because it was a mother's. Presently his breathing was echoed by a slow snore from the verandah, and she looked out. It was Guj Raj, the unappreciated,who had brought his blanket, unasked, and lay stretched across the doorway. Mary Addison had not thought of taking the precaution of keeping a servant within call, and the unexpected thoughtfulness touched her.

          A sudden exaltation of spirit came to her through the night stillness, bracing her tired body for fresh exertions. There was no wrecked or wasted feeling ; the might of her love, which could make no manifestation to her own sons, was being utilised to help another woman's son, the unfortunate boy she had found distracted and alone. She had been able to prevent him from committing sheer mad murder, and it might yet be within her power to save the overthrow of a tottering reason. Her plain weary face seemed transfigured by an illuminating purpose as she performed the homely action of lighting a spirit lamp and heating some milk, for she knew that he might wake soon.
          He woke presently, with a cry, his eyes full of wild terror, and he struck at her when she tried to reassure him. For weeks after her breast showed the black mark of his blow, and at the moment acute physical pain turned her faint and sick; then the weakness passed and he was a child again, a big unhappy child, to be coaxed and comforted. Slowly, very slowly, his dark mood changed, he forgot the horror of his dream, was interested in the hot milk given to him to drink, and made drowsy by her steady flow of talk in a gentle monotonous voice.
          'I like to hear your voice, it keeps dreadful things at bay,' he said, and as she sat near him dipping handkerchiefs in water to cool his hot forehead, she found herself singing the hymn that had been her children's lullaby, and repeating again and again what little Dick called 'the comfy verse':

When in the night I sleepless lie,
My soul with heavenly thoughts supply:
Let no ill dreams disturb my rest—
No powers of darkness me molest.

          How long the dawn was in coming; each time that she looked towards the door she saw the same hopeless darkness. She could have prayed at last for a gleam of the sunrise that should usher in a better day. Surely he was sleeping more peacefully, and his forehead seemed cooler. Was the victory not to be with the powers of darkness after all?
          Very slowly a grey light glimmered behind the reed blind, and the crows began to wake. Warwick was still sleeping, and as the light grew stronger she arranged a shawl on a chair to shield his eyes.
          Presently there was a sound of arrival outside, and an English voice asking for the mem sahib, and she hurried out to meet the doctor.
          'Are you all right, Mrs. Addison ? How have you managed?' he asked quickly. 'You must have had an awful night. I only got your letter at dawn, and came at once. What have you done with him, where is he? That was the letter of an absolute madman.'
          'He is asleep still,' said Mary Addison, quietly, ' he has slept a great part of the night,' and she briefly described what had happened. Her face looked very grey and small in the dawn light.
          'Have some chota hazeri and then lie down and get a sleep,' said the kind little man, whose full title was Surgeon-Lieutenant-Colonel, but who refused to answer to anything longer or more stately than 'Doctor.'
          'You've done wonders, and I'll look after him now. I've got a couple of Tommies coming in case he needs a guard, as he hates natives, but I hope they won't be wanted.'
          'Let me come and tell him who you are—you might startle him.'
          'Drink your tea and lie down, while I look after my patient,' and then she realised for the first time how tired she was.
          Three hours later she was arranging the roses on the breakfast table, a little weary eyed, but fresh and alert again, and listening eagerly for voices from the next room.
          'Ah, rested ? That's right,' said Dr. Bailey, entering briskly. ‘Warwick will be here in a minute, and after breakfast he is coming back with me.'
          Mary Addison's eyes asked a question that her tongue hesitated to phrase.
          'Yes, I think one may hope he will be himself again before long; but he may call it either good luck, or God's mercy, according to his turn of mind, that you came when you did. He's an excitable fellow, and he's got into money troubles, I gather—and I don't mind telling you, his reason was simply hanging in the balance yesterday. He was insane to all intents and purposes, and if it had come to a struggle, if one of these natives had tried to overpower him, he would have gone mad: raging, raving mad.'
          'Oh, poor boy; will he really recover?'
          'I hope so, in time and with care ; that sleep he got last night was the best thing possible.' He laughed suddenly. 'It's funny to look at the size of your hands, Mrs. Addison, and think that you have prevented a man from committing two or three murders!'
          'He was quite gentle with me.'
          ' Yes, I know that sort of gentleness, and the watching and managing it needs; and you're a plucky woman, a very plucky woman.'
          'No I'm not, not a bit,' said Mary Addison; 'but it might have been one of my own boys ill and in trouble, with no one to look after him. Fancy if Roger, or Ted, or my little Dick '
          Her voice broke and she hid her face.
          'There's nothing to cry for now,' said the doctor.
          'That's why I let myself do it,' said Mary Addison, through her tears.
                                                  Alice Fleming.

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